Friday, June 28, 2013

Oconee Station State Historic Site (Blog Hike #397)

Trails: Nature and Station Creek Trails
Hike Location: Oconee Station State Historic Site
Geographic Location: north of Walhalla, SC (34.84607, -83.06996)
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2012
Overview: A semi-loop featuring historic Oconee Station and scenic Station Creek Falls.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Walhalla, take SR 11 north 6.3 miles to Oconee Station Road.  Turn left on Oconee Station Rd.  Take Oconee Station Rd. 2.1 miles to the signed entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the site.  Follow the park road to the blacktop parking area at its end, where this hike begins.  Note that you can still hike this trail even if the historic site is closed (i.e. in the winter) using the roadside parking area another 0.3 miles further along Oconee Station Rd.  Look for the gravel pullout with information boards to the left of the road.

The hike: Located at the base of Oconee Mountain, Oconee Station State Historic Site preserves the former site of Oconee Town, the place where Oconee County began.  First occupied by the Cherokee, the site constituted one of the Cherokee nation’s southern-most settlements.  The town had strategic value due to its location on the trading route between the British colonies to the southeast and the Cherokee nation to the northwest.
The Cherokee abandoned Oconee Town in 1752, but it would be rebuilt as Oconee Station 40 years later when the boundary between the United States and the Cherokee passed through this site.  The buildings you see here today are the ones built in 1792.  Interestingly, Oconee County did not come into being until 1868 when it was formed by breaking off a piece of the Pickens District, the namesake of neighboring Pickens County.
The site today makes an interesting destination that combines historical structures with natural scenery.  The historical structures are the buildings from 1792 Oconee Station, and the natural scenery is 80-foot Station Creek Falls.  Despite its appeal, this hike often gets overlooked in favor of longer ones at nearby Oconee State Park.  Miss this one at your own displeasure: it is a hidden gem.
Start by viewing the historic buildings, which are reached by taking the mulch trail exiting uphill from the northwest corner of the parking area.  In the clearing at the top of the hill, you will find two structures: a stone blockhouse dating to 1792 used by the South Carolina militia and the brick 1805 residence of William Richards.  The structures are only open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5pm, so I could only view them from the outside on my Friday afternoon visit.
1792 stone blockhouse
1805 brick residence
            After you have visited the historic buildings, head back downhill toward the park road on the only other trail exiting this area.  A brown wooden sign saying, “Nature trail, pond, falls” on the other side of the road marks the trailhead.  The single-track dirt trail descends moderately using two switchbacks to ease the grade.  At 0.2 miles from the parking area, the trail forks to form a loop around the park’s pond.  The shortest route to Station Creek Falls heads left, but to get the full tour this hike will angle right here and use the left trail as a return route.
Very quickly the trail reaches the park’s pond and treads over the pond’s earthen dam.  Wildflowers line the warm, sunny trail across the dam in season.  Upon reaching the far side of the dam, the trail curves right before making a sweeping 180-degree turn left to begin paralleling the east bank of the pond some 20 feet above the water.  Turtles and frogs usually enjoy this type of habitat, but I could detect no activity during my visit here.
Trail crossing pond's earthen dam
            The trail curves left and crosses two tributaries of the pond while joining an old road.  At 0.6 miles, the spur trail to the falls exits right while the loop around the pond angles left.  We will continue around the pond eventually, but for now turn right to head for Station Creek Falls.
Spur trail to falls exits right
            The trail climbs moderately for a short distance using a single switchback to reach Oconee Station Road, which it crosses and reenters the woods on the far side.  The wide single-track trail here is marked with yellow i-shaped paint blazes that indicate this trail is part of the Palmetto Trail.  The Palmetto Trail is a 425-mile route that crosses the length of South Carolina from Oconee State Park in the northwest to the Charleston area in the southeast.  Only portions of the trail (called passages) are currently open.  This passage is called the Oconee Passage, and it starts at Oconee Station Road and ends 3.2 miles later in Oconee State Park.  Check the Palmetto Trail Conservation Federation’s website for updates and newly opened passages.
The trail descends moderately as it begins its approach to Station Creek.  At 0.9 miles, a newly constructed wooden bench offers a nice place to sit and observe Station Creek’s ravine.  This area has an overlook feel to it except that the partially obstructed view is of nothing in particular.  Past the bench, the wide trail descends gradually in a meandering fashion as it crosses a couple of tributaries before entering the bottom of Station Creek’s ravine.
Palmetto Trail exits right
            1.3 miles into the hike, the Palmetto Trail exits to the right, heading 2.7 mile to Oconee State Park.  Angle left to stay on the Station Creek Trail.  A wooden turnstile prevents bicycles on the Palmetto Trail from accessing the hiker-only Station Creek Trail.  Station Creek now lies immediately to your left.
The ravine tightens considerably as the sound of the waterfall comes within earshot.  At 1.5 miles, the trail crosses Station Creek on an easy rock hop less than 0.1 miles before you arrive at the base of Station Creek Falls.  When I visited this waterfall during a moderate drought, the falls were not that impressive in terms of volume, but the two-level cascade was still very photogenic.  The greenery growing in the waterfall add nice accents to the grey rock backdrop, and some rocks near the base of the waterfall make for nice places to sit.  This waterfall is the highlight of the hike, so take a few minutes to enjoy the setting.
Station Creek Falls
            The Station Creek Trail ends at the waterfall, so you need to retrace your steps out of the ravine and across Oconee Station Road to where you left the loop trail around the pond.  Turn right to continue the loop.  You are now hiking on the newest trail in the park, and the pond soon comes into view downhill to the left.  The trail undulates slightly to cross several small tributaries of the pond.  At 2.6 miles, you close the loop around the pond.  A short uphill walk is all that remains to complete the hike.

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